Self-Service Customer Communities

Please enjoy this guest blog about self-service customer communities by Ashley Furness of Software Advice.

Crowdsourcing covers a wide range of initiatives and industries; from fundraising to outsourcing piecemeal tasks. But, hopefully, each effort is about better serving the needs of the network that’s participating in the discussion. One of the ways that crowdsourcing helps to serve an audience is through self-service customer communities (distributed knowledge bases) where customers or clients can share their own tips and tricks or experiences and help answer each other’s questions (and also help businesses cut down on their operational costs).

But you can’t just flip on the switch. Public knowledge bases, customer groups and discussion forums require careful planning to ensure customers actually want to use them.

Recently, research firm Software Advice interviewed Zendesk Vice President JD Peterson to find out what strategies he suggests companies use to build an effective customer service community. He recommends five major concepts: usability, gamification, employee engagement, measurement and integration with other customer service channels.

Think of usability as a science, rather than an art. User experience experts know the specific places navigation signals should go to foster engagement, also where customers naturally look to find customer service.

“Don’t guess with this kind of stuff,” Petersen said.

Designers should also work with marketing to devise titles and headings that are appealing, eye-catching and immediately meaningful to the visitor.

Gamification elements are a perfect means for driving self-service engagement, Peterson said. This can include leader boards, score boards, badges and other such features. These recognition signals should award points for engagement activities such as answering another visitor’s question, or voting on an answer from another user. This recognizes customers for their contribution and inspires the to come back.

In order for the self service to work efficiently, Peterson recommends integrating with traditional service channels. He calls this the “escape value.”

“If I can’t ultimately find the answer I am looking for I need an easy way to get from the community to another channel – phone, or email or live chat,” he said.

Employee Engagement
Even if the community is focused on the user, customers will interact more if they know your company is actually listening. Staff should keep a close eye on discussions and chime in if the answer isn’t available. Customer service staff can also pick up on valuable customer feedback that can then be shared with product and feature development teams.

The best way to ensure you have the most effective community possible is to continually improve through trial and error. Use your crowd to develop content for the community by mining for trends in customer conversations across all channels. This will allow you team to identify reoccurring topics and questions.

Click here to watch the entire video.

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